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Teenagers, Social Media, the Press (And a Few Other Things)

Charlotte Hampton, Grade 11, Opinion Editor


Hours after Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court, a screenshot of a Vanity Fair article went viral on social media. “Amy Coney Barrett, About to Be Confirmed to the Supreme Court, Sees a Scenario in Which Abortion Should Be Punishable By Death,” read the headline. This seemingly groundbreaking story, endorsed and shared by many of my peers, flummoxed me. Could it be true that the new Supreme Court justice wanted to kill women who had gotten abortions?

After reading the article, I found that the story was misrepresented by the alarmist headline. It ignored the context of the question and the nature of Barrett’s response. Throughout the confirmation, Barrett consistently circumvented Democratic Senators’ questions, claiming she could not answer ‘hypotheticals.’ Her answer to whether abortion should be punished as a capital crime was in keeping with this pattern, and did not mean that she saw “a scenario in which abortion should be punishable by death.” If this was the case, did my peers look at the Vanity Fair article and read it all the way through before sharing? Were they fully informed on the nature of the hearings before spreading a rumor to thousands of their followers?

Studies show that 61% of Generation Z use social media as their main news source. Teenagers are less aware of global politics: instead of discussing the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, they talk about “cancel culture.” They praise peers for being politically active when they poorly explain a point they found on Instagram on why “cancel culture” is bad. This leads to unearned confidence, which creates a political impasse, neither side willing to concede.

The absolutism of Generation Z’s discourse is aggravated by the way they deal with social media.There is increasing disrespect for the American political system by President Trump, especially as he refuses to concede the election. Social media begets dogma and absolutism, which begets divisions that could destroy America’s systems.

There is little space on a post for nuanced explanations, and people opt for flashy headlines that provide more likes and shares. They chose one-sided stories that use biased language and cite no sources. The disagreements in the comments of these posts are similarly strident: a rude dismissal of the message or a thumbs down emoji is more common than a citation or a statistic. Even if a user does cite a fact in their response, there is little reason for another user to believe them—this is what comes with the anonymity of social media. We are all simply adding to the noise, once again, focusing on the politics of the social media world rather than the politics of the real world.

This leads to conflict. When people’s political consciousness is dominated by social media, they lose sight of the nuance of their arguments, refusing to concede to contrary opinions. News organizations become increasingly biased, and even conversations on the national scale debate a fact as simple as who won the election. On November 7th, the day president-elect Joe Biden won, Trump supporters gathered in Washington, D.C., claiming that the election had been stolen. As night fell, counter-protesters confronted the Trump supporters. The result was bloody, one protestor stabbed in the back and sent to the hospital, and hundreds more injured.

The New York community of liberal teens believe in their own altruism, their beliefs fogged by a focus on social media. They lose sight of the complexities of their arguments. Teenagers have to begin to choose reliable news that explains these issues in full. Without a total understanding of current events, politics becomes more divided.

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